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   Science and Public Reason
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
28 Oct 2012

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emonstrations are anything to go by, there is profound disaffection among citizens about the democracies they are part of. Failure of neo-liberalism to provide an alternative has created further distress among the public. Neither have institutions been able to read reason for public anguish nor have the state created space for public reason in influencing public policy. The dozen essays written over past two decades by Harvard University Professor Sheila Jasanoff conclude that acknowledging public reason can shed surprisingly clear light on a world in turmoil.

Without doubt, the essays put together in the volume are work in immense scholarship. Picking on scientific controversies from Germany, England, the US and India, ranging from mad cow scare to silicone gel breast transplant, Jasanoff creates a mosaic of scientific controversies wherein interplay between science and public reasoning had led to influencing state policies to some extent. Yet, the power of words to compel action has remained a subject for philosophical and political analysis from Plato down to modern times. It is no wonder, therefore, that in majority of instances reason is achieved, not attained.

One reason why reason is not treated as a practice has to do with its implications on re-visioning democracy. The entrenched notion with which democracies have been governed all across, reason viewed as a social practice only undermines powers that be. Not surprising, therefore, that in a functioning democracy there is lack of systematic correspondence between what is offered as public justification and what actually gets acknowledged by the citizens. To overcome this mistrust, Jasanoff offers public reason as a response to the problem of trust in a society that is besieged with technological uncertainty, information excess and proliferating expertise.

In an era when modern governments have come to be regarded as oppressive and intrusive, excluding knowledge and perspectives of the public has only added to their woes. It is now widely reasoned that increased participation and interactive knowledge-making alone can improve accountability and alleviate democracy's discontents.

Science and Public Reason
by Sheila Jasanoff
Routledge, London
290 pages, US $ 145


 
 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
 
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

 
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
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